Outsourcing pcb design can help you… and here’s why
By Mark Tinkler, business development & sales at Vision Circuits - Toronto DivisionProduction / Materials Contract Manufacturing
At Vision Circuits, most of the companies that we work with have in-house printed circuit board (pcb) design capabilities, and, occasionally, we encounter a potential customer who will ask us: “Why do I need to outsource my printed circuit board design? I have in-house resources that do that!”
Even if you have in-house designers, a close look into outsourcing pcb design is definitely warranted if you want to improve time-to-market, product quality and reliability, flexibility, customer satisfaction, or the bottom line.
To be clear, pcb design represents the conversion of electronic schematic diagrams into sets of data that are then used to create fully developed, manufactured, assembled, tested, and qualified printed circuit boards. This pcb design process is also known as pcb layout.
Two key elements must be considered in any improvement – pcb design capacity and pcb design capability:
Pcb design capacity
Resources: Are you getting the most out of your in-house electronic design talent? Some companies use an electronics design engineer (one who engineers the electronic design and creates the schematic) to also create the pcb design.
By subcontracting the pcb design to a qualified pcb design firm, you can free the electronic design engineer to focus purely on electronic design. By making this change, you will significantly increase the capacity of new product development at your company.
Growth: Is your organization in a growth phase? Do you plan on entering one soon? During a growth phase, companies will hire more PCB design talent to meet the demand. Unfortunately, pcb design talent is then dismissed after the growth phase hit a plateau. This is disruptive to an organization and to design professionals.
By using a pcb design firm, you will increase your company’s flexibility during periods of growth and reduce involuntary employee turnover. By developing a solid partnership with a qualified pcb design firm, you will always have ready and reliable PCB design resources when you need them.
Transitions: Change is constant. Some companies move from one design software tool to another; at times driven by pcb design staff/engineering leadership changes. Companies also merge. In these cases, previous pcb designs need to be transitioned to a new common pcb design software tool. Different iterations of pcb design software tools and library data/structures can also exist within a company; in many cases the format and control is questionable. A qualified pcb design firm can help you to close these gaps and will enable your pcb design system to create better products, faster.
Pcb design capability
Design Software: Some companies fail to realize that pcb design has a huge impact on overall performance, reliability, and cost of finished product. Some pcb designers use low cost pcb design software tools or older versions of pcb design tools (both have limited capabilities) which will create costly constraints further in the design and manufacturing process.
Best practice is to engage with a qualified pcb design firm that fully uses the latest pcb design software tools and that has formed strong relationships with their design software providers. This will benefit all involved, most importantly your customers.
Collaboration: Improve your in-house capabilities through collaboration. A qualified pcb design firm will help companies improve their pcb design capabilities by working collaboratively with your in-house designers. This is a great resource to have in order to explore and implement best practices or to bounce ideas around. The end result is better pcb design.
Technology Expansion: Is your company specialized in one segment of the industry? Are you looking for the best pcb design practices for a specific industry? Are you expanding into a new technology area? A qualified pcb design firm can help. Work with a pcb design firm that has the depth of experience in many industry segments and technologies for best results.
Library Improvement: Companies can always improve their pcb design libraries. Libraries are the foundational building blocks of any great pcb design. Libraries often are not kept in order or have rogue elements included in them. This often results in challenges in final pcb design quality and translates into manufacturability and reliability issues (and costs) downstream. Look to a solid pcb design firm for best practices and assistance in improving your libraries.
DFM/DFA/DFx: Improve your pcb designs for manufacturability, assembly, test, and overall design excellence. Some companies place this responsibility with downstream entities such as bare pcb manufacturers and assembly shops. Critical design rules and validation/verification elements must be incorporated early in the process and include information integral to the design, manufacturing, and testing processes. Look for a pcb design firm that has great relationships (and active communication) with component manufacturers, bare pcb manufacturers, assembly companies, and testing firms. You will experience improved time-to-market and less overall cost.
There are caveats in the use of an outsourced pcb design firm. They must have a great reputation, be trusted, and be strongly aligned with your company, for your product development process to be a success.